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Meet the Shortses: 1938

Meet the Shortses: 1938

July 1938. "Family of Clifford Shorts, a roller at the Jones & Laughlin mill. Photos show Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, a steel mill town on the Ohio River. Workers' homes on surrounding hills are segregated according to race or nationality in 'plans'." Medium format negative by Arthur Rothstein. View full size.


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J&L Mill

My grandfather worked at the J&L mill in Aliquippa. I wonder if he knew this man.

Reminds Me

Of something Norman Rockwell would immortalize: The American Family.

Lovely photo

In 1930, Clifford John Shorts (26, occupation roller) and Catherine A. Shorts (22) lived with their son Clifford John Jr. (then two months old) as renters at 1720 Davidson Street in Aliquippa. The dwelling exists today (photo below).

Son Clifford Jr.’s WWII draft card shows a birth date of 12 Dec 1928. That could be an error, or Clifford Jr. might have provided an earlier date to appear older. Clifford Jr. served in the Korean War and died in 2012.

Beautiful Portrait

I hope this family had a copy of this gorgeous portrait in their home. They did okay getting their family photo taken by Arthur Rothstein.

Thank you!

Thanks FixIt. One of the best things about Shorpy is the inside view it gives us of so many of the TOUGH jobs that built this country. Your father-in-law, the women we see here doing war work, and so many others who worked and sweated in the industrial heart of the U.S. are my heroes.

Aliquippa mill

Having worked for a steel maker, I find this photo very interesting. The guy looks like a very upstanding mill worker, natty with his outfit. In other Shorpy pics of Pittsburgh and Aliquippa (like a few days ago), the housing looked very run-down, in need of paint. Very depressing, and the stink from coke ovens was likely terrible.

Fixit is right that usually only two finished coils are carried on trucks, over the axles, never in bed middle. The coils are called "hot bands" or "cold bands" depending the end use. Often ingots are rolled into rough slabs, from which plate or sheet is rolled.


The family is well dressed, especially the parents.
I wonder if this is after church, and mom put the apron on while preparing lunch. Her shoes, and hose with no visible runs, don't look like everyday wear, and I don't think a roller, as you describe, would be wearing a shirt and tie.

Mesmerizing Photo

This is a photo that commands my attention. The wife and kids look unhappy, stressed, bored, and/or worried, but the father looks defiant and confident. There seems to be lots of emotion on display without any signs of being staged. It could be that the kids are bored from waiting for the photo to be taken and Mom is tired of corralling the kids, but who knows? There's so much to read into it.

Noisy and smelly job

My recently deceased father in law retired as a roller at a local steel mill. I was fortunate to have a tour of the plant in its heyday. The rolling was done from a pulpit, a suspended room about 9 feet square by 20 feet long. It was one of the few places in the mill that was air conditioned. Cooling was necessary because a glowing hot ingot would travel under this pulpit which was suspended only about 10 feet above. His job was to flip this massive ingot, chop off one end, roll it then chop off the other end. The required length of the ingot was on a paper next to him. He sat behind a steering wheel that gave him Paul Bunyan-like arms. This wheel didn't have power assist. It was all manpower and gears. He also used foot pedals to make the ingot go forward and backward. After my father-in-law was finished, it would travel down the line to be squeezed and squeezed until this once massive ingot was 1/4" thick depending on the order. Eventually the steel would be flying by and was rolled up. I am sure you have seen these massive rolls of steel on trailers. They usually would only put two rolls on a trailer, but one hotshot trucker wanted to make more money by carrying another roll. Everyone in the yard told him not to, but when the third roll sat on the trailer, it broke the chassis of the trailer, which the trucker had to pay for.

This family is very well dressed for the salary he made. And I see he is well on the way to his own set of Popeye arms.

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